Friday, September 19, 2014

Writing Progress Report ... Hazard

I've had Laec whispering in my ear for weeks now, and while I've tried to ignore him so I could wrap up work on the house, a rainy Tuesday and a little atmospheric music conspired to lead me back to my keyboard. Reading through the first three chapters of Hazard and my notes/outline for the book, I realized it was Time.

The funny thing is, I haven't even been reading the past few months, which isn't like me since I normally devour a book a night when my insomnia kicks in. I guess I've just been too tired lately, what with all the physical labor going on around here. Head hits pillow, head falls asleep. But I picked up my kindle the other day and discovered I had three new pre-orders from some of my favorite authors waiting for me. I don't know if that was the shove I needed to get back to my own writing, but I opened the file for Hazard, tweaked my outline, and banged out the first chapter in months.

And when I say banged, that pretty much sums it up. The brain is like any muscle in your body--if you don't use it for awhile, it atrophies. Which means writing those first few pages after a long absence is like stepping into the gym after months of sitting on your ass. You have to work the kinks out of your writing muscles, get back into the flow. I remember I stopped writing at a transition point--I had the opening set up, knew where I was ultimately going, but hadn't figured out how to ease into it. Transitions are a pain to get right. Anyone who follows sequential TV series recognizes the Set Up Episode. You watch it and feel like you've just wasted an hour because nothing really happened, but those scenes are critical to the story and one of the hardest things to master. It's a question of balance--you need to impart important information without boring the reader or conking them over the head with the obvious, "HEY, STUFF IS GOING TO START HAPPENING IN A MINUTE AND YOU NEED TO KNOW WHY."

I must have rewritten the first couple of paragraphs ten times before I realized, who cares? Just get it all down now, you can edit it later.

So Laec is off and running again toward his latest misadventure. I'm not making any promises as to when I'll get him there. The daytime writing job that pays the bills has its ebbs and flows, and I'm suddenly in a flow right now, but I've promised myself to pull out the netbook each night and try to get an hour of writing in before I conk out. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Where Oh Where Has My Writer Muse Been?

That title may be misleading. I have no idea if my Muse has forsaken me, been eaten by rabid monkeys, or just taken an extended trip to the Bahamas since I haven't even attempted to rouse her in so long the thought alone is shrouded in cobwebs. The truth is, for the past three-plus months, I've been ass-deep in Renovation Hell. Yes, I finally broke down and took the homeowner plunge. Again. Who knows, maybe the seventh time will be the charm.

Those of you who know me may be aware that I'm something of an old house buff, though truth be told, it's an obsession that began out of necessity rather than any desire to court history. When you raise three kids by yourself on a shoestring budget, you can't afford anything but old fixer-uppers. You also can't afford to have anyone else do the fixing up, so you learn to do it yourself. I was fortunate in that my dad was also a self-taught fixer-upper who knew how to do just about everything and passed his knowledge and expertise on to a very eager-to-learn me.

That being said, after my last foray into home ownership, during which I was foolish enough to try to sell at the height of the housing recession, an act that took three years and cost me $50K in losses, I swore off home ownership for life.


Just like my other obsession, antique roses. once you get a taste of it, you can't stay away forever. (I had an old gardener once tell me when a rose tastes your blood, it has you for life. Which, I guess makes them the vampires of the plant world. That's why I stay away from them completely now. That was one hobby that went from two antique roses in an urban front yard to a country acre stuffed with over 600. Believe me, Dracula has nothing on roses.)

So why the change of heart? For one thing, I got tired of staring at white walls and not being able to do whatever I wanted with my surroundings. That just doesn't appeal to the bohemian-gypsy-hoarder in me. And while I love, love, love old bungalows, the starving artist budget wasn't there for one at today's prices. So this time it's a manufactured home, which also has the advantage of being easier to maintain. That's a major plus for me, since these old bones aren't as strong as they used to be--something I've been made painfully aware of during this renovation. An added bonus is the location--it's on a canal that leads to a river that leads to the Gulf of Mexico just a short mile away. I've always wanted to live on the water but being a Floridian, didn't relish the thought of being evacuated every time the sea gods decided to get frisky. That makes this the best of both worlds.

That still didn't stop me from tearing the place down to the studs and moving/removing every wall in the place to remake it in my own image of salvaged, wabi-sabi imperfection. And now after three months of non-stop destruction/construction, I will be moving into my new digs this weekend.

So what does that mean for my writing? Well, for one thing, I can finally get back to it. I've picked out the perfect location for my desk--in front of a window that overlooks the water. How inspirational is that? And hopefully, after I get settled in, I'll be stopping by this blog more often, and--fingers crossed--laying down some serious wordsmithing on the third book of the Erebus Files. Laec and the crew have been pounding around in my head for weeks, telling me my days of denial are coming to an end. No promises here, but I might get something cranked out by the end of the year.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Equality--like racism--is a two-way street

For decades we have strived as a nation to dissolve the racial barriers, so equality exists for all races in this country. We are all aware of instances where overt racism is vilified in the media, and rightly so, especially when that behavior occurs in the public eye. However, it seems more and more that the condemnation of this behavior is a one-way street.

This morning I read about a phenomenon called Black Twitter, a corner of the Twitterverse devoted to the concerns of black people. Okay, fine, I have no problem with that. But I can hear the public outcry already if someone created a White Twitter. It's a double standard that has to change if we are ever to become a society that is truly racially-transparent.

If you want equality, going out of your way to point out how you are different or special or persecuted as a group is not the way to get it. You can't have it both ways. It's an all-in proposition. You don't get to pick and choose which parts you like. You can't say, I want to be equal in this regard but special in that one. You're either part of the whole, or you're separate, and thus open for separate treatment. And you damn sure can't expect to be treated as special because of that difference.

This applies to all aspects of differences--race, gender, religion, etc. I remember the whole Affirmative Action debate back in the day. As a woman, I saw aspects of it firsthand back in the 80s. I saw men who were less qualified than me making more money doing the same job because, as my supervisor told me behind closed doors (where there were no witnesses to his mysogynistic behavior) the men were supporting a family. Well, so was I. Three kids as a single mother, though according to him that meant I should be home with them and a husband. None of which should have had any bearing on our ability to do the job.

In that instance, I did not want special treatment. I wanted equal treatment. I wanted to be paid the same amount to do the same job and be held to the same standards. Not different standards. Not special standards. I didn't want any standards lowered or changed for me. I just wanted to compete on a level playing field.

And that's what equality means in a nutshell. You are treated the same as everyone else and held to the same standards and rules as anyone else. If it's good for one, it's good for all, and vice versa.

But that's not how it is. I don't want to get into a racial debate, but there is a double standard here. When a white person says something offensive or disparaging against black people, it's racism. When a black person does it, it's excused as part of their culture. Comedians get away with this all the time. Black comedians constantly berate or insult white people as a whole and it's humor. If a white comedian stood on stage and insulted black people as a whole, he'd be publicly condemned as a racist.

This isn't about swinging the pendulum back to center. You can't change the events of the past by over-correcting in the present. What's done is done. Everyone knows how black people were treated in this country prior to the Civil Rights movement. It was a crime against humanity, just as the way the Native Americans were driven from their own country and the Jews were rounded up and persecuted in Nazi Germany. Personally, I don't think you can even compare the treatment of slaves with those two examples, especially not the Jews. I visited Dachau as a kid--that's a level of human depravity that most people can't even comprehend.

The point is, what's done is done. We can't change the past, we can only improve the future. As a nation, as a world, it is our duty as human beings to see that all people are treated equally and fairly. Not special. Not held to some double standard. You want equality, then you deal with the good and the bad of it. You can't cry foul when someone else does something that you believe you should be allowed to do. You want to claim discrimination or be offended by something, then hold yourself to the same standard. The problem with this country is, there is too much "Do as I say, not as I do" behavior.

Personally, I blame "political correctness" for a lot of this, which has just become a shield for double standard behavior. Not everything said is meant to be a personal attack on your race, gender, religion, or sensibilities. That being said, I'm a little tired of having to walk on eggshells for fear of offending someone who believes they shouldn't be held to the same standard. If it's good for one, it's good for all.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Still Alive

I thought I might drop by here and do some housecleaning. Dust and mop, clear the cobwebs. I know I haven't been around much of late, but I've been busy doing my artsy thing and urban survival training (aka, scrounging up paying work).

Life is tough for us artistic types. Especially those who, like me, don't write mainstream or mass appeal fiction, don't care to walk the corporate line, and like challenges to be more about creativity than money. Yeah, I need the green stuff to live, but sincerely wish life could happen without it. What can I say, I'm a simple gal at heart.

Good intentions aside, I just wanted to give a status report. No, I haven't been writing lately. Not since NaNoWriMo ended, to be honest. Instead I've been channeling my creative energy into my Etsy store, NidoBeato (blissful nest in Italian) Creations, making sparkly little lamps and windchimes. Sorry, but I do this occasionally, going off the writing grid to pursue my artistic fancies. Guess I'm not real ambitious that way, but hey, life is about experiences, not schedules. Besides, whenever I take time off to do other stuff, I come back to my writing more invigorated and energized.

Doesn't relate to anything in this post. I just thought it was pretty and eye-catching (pun intended)

Doesn't mean the stories aren't percolating on the back burner. That never stops. But right now I have some serious life stuff to get through that demands my undivided attention. Artsy stuff allows me to think while providing the creative outlet that is my oxygen. Kind of a zen thing. Some people meditate, some medicate, I do art.

I promise to stop by and water the plants and feed the mind now and then until I flip the switch back to full time writer.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Life in Review - Ten Family Food Memories

I've been thinking all week about doing one of those year in review posts that are so popular, but whether it's a sign of age or just plain boredom, I couldn't recall anything about my life this past year worth reviewing. I mean, sure stuff happened, but none of it was noteworthy.

 During a year bookended by stretches of unemployment, I can sum up the highlights in a single sentence: I quietly published two books (quietly because no one really noticed), finished a single semester of college in my aborted attempt to return to a scholastic life, completed a few web design jobs, redesigned my own websites, sold my beloved bucket list M3, started another new blog and business ( NidoBeato Creations ), and struggled through my first full year without both of my parents. I guess you could say I'm slowing down because I can't remember anything exciting and I don't miss it.

Maybe it's what's sitting on the horizon that has me so pensive. See, this is now a 4 year, which for me is a 0 year, meaning decades. I enter winter this year - 60 - and while at times I've struggled with the reality that the face in the mirror is no longer young, I think I've finally come to terms with the winter stage of life. In fact, I'd say I'm ready to embrace it. The truth is, youth exhausts me now. I no longer identify with it, and having moved past it, see it for the learning experience that it is. Would I go back if given the chance?  Hell no.

But I digress. I was sitting here yesterday, projects lined up on my work table but not really in the mood to tackle them, and instead started couch surfing and ended up on the Cooking Channel watching a marathon of My Grandmother's Ravioli, and it reminded me that some of my best memories revolve around food and family. Our family was small (just myself, my parents, my brother, and my grandmother who lived with us part time), but we were extremely close. Maybe it was all those years in the military, moving from place to place with no one but ourselves to depend on, and maybe it was that Old World, Depression-era mentality of my parents who believed in family above all else, but my youth was a happy, innocent time that revolved around family and friends.

Family dinners
Like scent, food triggers memories. Sunday mornings meant my dad's pancakes, Thanksgiving and Christmas meant waking up to the smell of roasting turkey, Christmas meant my dad would make all those traditional Italian pastries like cannoli and struffoli. Wednesday was spaghetti night, New Year's Day meant S.O.S. for brunch. July 4th meant a picnic with cold homemade fried chicken and deviled eggs. The first cold snap brought on my mother's homemade vegetable soup. And always there was a pot of navy beans or greens simmering on the stove. The mixture of Italian and Old South in my heritage made for an interesting dichotomy of flavors.

We didn't have much money. We weren't poor, but we weren't living it up either. We were just your average family--at least, so we thought. And the foods that were common and special were a whole lot different than they are now.

And so I present my list of Ten Family Food Memories.

1. Soda of any kind was a rarity. As a kid, we lived on Kool-aid, milk, and water. Orange juice (from concentrate) was a weekend breakfast treat. When we were sick, my mom would give us 7-Up with ice that she wrapped in a towel and crushed with a hammer.

2. Going out to eat was also a rarity, even for fast food. There were no MacDonald's when I was a little kid, and later, when there were, getting a restaurant-bought hamburger and fries happened only a few times a year.

3. Miracle Whip. It landed on every bologna or tuna fish sandwich. No mayo in my mom's house.

4. Speaking of tuna fish (a can of tuna--in oil, which for me is still the best way to buy it, two hardboiled eggs, Miracle Whip, and a chopped pickle) on toast was a welcome lunchtime break from bologna or PB&J sandwiches.

5. American Cheese. We didn't have the money for fancy special cheeses. My parents would buy those huge blocks of American cheese at the base commissary, which would then find itself in cheese and crackers (saltines, or if we were really getting fancy, Ritz), cheese eggs, the best grilled cheese sandwiches anywhere, and the ultimate comfort food, my mom's homemade macaroni and cheese.

6. Black Olives. I don't know what it is about black olives, but they carry a special meaning to me. My dad would buy those small jars of green olives to have with his lunchtime sandwich on the weekends, but black olives were only brought out for holidays, special occasions, and parties, which means that, for me, they're still something a little special.

7. Biscuits. The first thing I (or any other self-respecting Southerner) ever learned to cook. Every Saturday morning when my grandmother lived with us, I would drag my stool over to the counter and help her make biscuits. She always gave me the last bit of dough too small for a whole biscuit and I would ball it up and set it on my biscuit like a snowman. Throw some sausage gravy on there and you have a meal. Or, just drizzle them in syrup or honey.

8. S.O.S. Love it or hate it, it was a throwback to the Wars (WWI and WWII) when chow hall cooks had to feed armies with short supplies. The Army used dehydrated chipped beef in theirs, which gave it its name (Shit On a Shingle), but my dad made it with hamburger. It's still the quickest, stick-to-your-ribs meal I know how to make, which meant my kids also grew up with it and still love it as much as I do. Recipe: brown a pound of hamburger (the fattier, the better) in a heavy skillet, toss in a tablespoon or two of flour and mix to make a roux, add a mixture of milk and water, salt and pepper to make a smooth gravy, and serve on toast. Ten minutes tops. Great for New Year's Eve brunch.

9. Honky Soup. I laugh whenever Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory asks for it. Little hot dogs cut up in spaghetti. Like greens, biscuits, and mac 'n cheese, it's a Southern tradition, and another really quick meal for busy moms. Just cook up some elbow macaroni, open a can of tomato sauce, cut up a package of hot dogs (the cheaper, the better), toss it all in a pot and simmer for ten minutes. Trust me, kids love it. We sure did.

10. Toast in the broiler. Yep, just plain old white bread buttered on one side and browned in the broiler. Sounds simple, but in those days of hard stick butter and margarine that never melted on your bread, having the butter melted into your bread was heaven.

There are dozens of others, but these stand out. I'm sure your family had your own food traditions as well. I'd love to hear about them.